Faith in Transition: A Phenomenological Study of Christian College Student Leaders' Faith Experiences After Graduation

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


Department of Educational Administration


Advisor: Michele Welkener


Understanding how individuals make meaning of their faith has been researched for generations, with some important studies (Fowler 1981; Parks, 2011) delineating how such individuals construct and develop their faith over a lifetime. Likewise, a great deal of studies have explored how college students approach faith (Astin, Astin, & Lindholm, 2011; Chickering, Dalton & Stamm, 2006), and how universities can support such exploration. However, little research has been completed to investigate how students transition from college experience to adult life (Fox, 2011), and no research to date explores how students make meaning of their faith in the post-college transition. To fill that gap, this dissertation presents a qualitative, phenomenological study aimed at providing insight into how recent college student leader graduates of a Christian institution make meaning of personal faith during the post-graduation transition.To better understand how these Christian college student leaders constructed their faith after college, the researcher employed one-on-one interviews, using the general interview guide approach (Patton, 2002), and a pre-interview questionnaire from 15 recent graduates from a religiously affiliated, liberal arts university in the Midwest. Participants provided rich descriptions of their current faith through personally chosen words and metaphors. They expressed a desire to build supports for their faith in the midst of transition by creating a place for their faith to be integrated in their new life experiences, seeking opportunities to practice their faith, and building connections to people who helped and challenged their faith. Finally, they detailed the faith challenges they faced as a result of transition out of university life.Through analysis of faith descriptions, the findings of the study revealed that the transition fostered reflection on the meaning of participants' faith, and the supports and challenges of their faith both in college and in the midst of transition. The participants in this study also expressed a desire to reflect on the construct of their faith while maintaining their beliefs, or faith content. These recent graduates were also focused on building supports for their faith which would help them navigate challenges they faced in their transition and future life. Finally, as they reflected on their faith and focused on building such faith supports, they used the faith supports they found in their college experience as comparison points for their current faith needs.Research findings suggest that more could be done by students, higher education professionals, and faith communities to prepare students for the post-college transition and to support graduates as they reflect on the construct of their faith and build faith support structures. Ultimately, these groups need to become more educated about this phenomenon to help future graduates find, create, or integrate into various faith communities following the college experience.


Education Policy, Educational Leadership, Religious Education, Developmental Psychology, Faith, Transition, Christian, Graduation, Student Leader, Meaning-Making, Student Development, Faith Development

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Copyright © 2019, author